Metalhead Montreal: It’ll Melt Your Face Off
Source: Voivod poster from issue 358 of Metal Hammer
If you are a Montreal resident (which you most likely are if you are reading this), you have probably heard of our city being described as Canada’s premier cultural hub. From jazz music to theatre to all kinds of visual arts, Montreal indeed has quite a decorated artistic record. I am here to share my passion for one particular musical scene that you might not know Montreal as being famous for: metal.
You read that right, metal. Whether you are of the opinion that the genre is just a bunch of dudes screaming (you would not be completely wrong…) or that it is an incredibly underappreciated and misunderstood genre (you also would not be wrong), Montreal’s metal culture is truly unique, not just in Canada but in all of North America.
What initially put the city on the map for metalheads was the infamous date of November 30, 1985. Well-read and older metalheads might instantly recognize this day for the pivotal event known as World War III, North America’s very first international metal festival. It was held right here, in Montreal.
Put together by Maurice Richard, manager of Jonquière metal legends Voivod at the time, the festival’s objective was to raise funds for the band’s upcoming album Rrroooaaarrr. What set the event apart from other similar festivals was its international aim, which saw Richard flying in acts from European countries such as Switzerland and Germany.
Apart from Quebec natives like Voivod, bands including Possessed, Nasty Savage, Celtic Frost, and Destruction headlined the event, with some making their live debuts in North America. If you are a fellow metalhead, these names are likely already familiar to you. If not, here is the basic run-down to grasp just how historically significant the World War III festival was.
Starting with the American bands, Possessed and Nasty Savage were some of the main headliners. While Nasty Savage, Floridian thrashers, have rather fallen off the radar, Possessed are death metal royalty. Their 1985 album Seven Churches is considered one of the—if not the—first death metal albums ever recorded. World War III was their very first time playing outside their native California.
As for the Europeans, German thrash metal band Destruction had their first live performance on the American continent at the festival. The Swiss band Celtic Frost, widely considered one of the very first black metal bands alongside legends like Bathory and Venom, had their third show ever at World War III.
With such history, it is no wonder that Montreal eventually grew to see the development of a massive underground metalhead community. The city housed Rock en Stock, the best underground record store in North America, which owned the label Banzaï Records, creators of the now-iconic speed metal wheel.
Montreal witnessed waves of technical death metal developing from space metal (which sounds exactly like what its name suggests), unconventional black metal, and traditional heavy metal. Craig Sauvé, city councillor of Montreal's Le Sud-Ouest and member of Projet Montréal, speaks of Montreal’s metal as “a more technical brand, a more complicated brand to play… It’s a little more complex and thought-out and composed. [He thinks] that the academic approach that we have in Montreal—the CEGEPs, the universities that all have music programs, the jazz scene—contributes to the type of heavy metal that comes from Montreal.”
Craig Sauvé is famous in Montreal’s metal scene for pushing an initiative to establish the city’s “excellence” in the metal music genre. According to alternative magazine Kerrang!, Sauvé received “bipartisan support” from two other councillors, and the motion later passed on April 15th of 2019, an event to which Sauvé brought his favourite metal albums to celebrate.
Significantly, only a few months later, on July 28th, Big Four thrash legend Anthrax (the other Big Four members being Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer) were inducted into the Hall of Heavy Metal History at the Heavy Montreal metal festival. The Hall of Heavy Metal History is a non-profit organisation that celebrates and immortalises the achievements of bands as well as industry executives that shaped the rock and metal genres and scenes.
On the day the motion passed, Craig Sauvé told a Global News reporter that “the metal community is an essential part of the cultural ecosystem of Montreal, and metal music is anchored in the heart of our city. Metalheads are happy to be underground, but I think we’d like a little respect once in a while. Having that institutional recognition is a big start.”
Some popular metal bands originating from Montreal and Quebec include the aforementioned Voivod, Gorguts, Martyr, Cryptopsy, Kataklysm, and Despised Icon, among many more. I personally recommend the Montreal-based black metal band Basalte if you are looking for something more moody and unconventional! Want to see some local metal bands live? Hit up places like Turbo Haüs, Le Ritz PDB, Foufounes Électriques, or Traxide (though you would have to ask a punk or a metalhead where Traxide is since they do not divulge their location) when you can!